The Big Freeze
Looking back ten years at the worst ice storm in Maine history.
Ten years ago this month, I was in an office in Brunswick when a light rain began to fall and word came from a co-worker that the roads were getting slick. Being a boss who preferred that his employees not risk their necks for nonprofit wages, I sent everyone home - everyone but myself. Since my commute was absurdly short, from one side of the downtown to the other, I decided to stay late. On the way home I paused at a Chinese restaurant and found myself the only customer at the buffet. I remember the forlorn look in the waiter's eyes as he was obliged to restock the Szechuan beef for the only idiot out in the storm. Half an hour later, I was back on the road with four blocks to go. I might as well have been driving on a hockey rink with greased tires. The ride was terrifying, and when I finally did reach my dooryard, I slid from one end to the other. Shaking, I stepped out of the car and fell immediately on my tailbone. Inside my apartment, the power was already out.
That is my first memory of the Ice Storm of 1998. On the scale of natural disasters, it was no Hurricane Katrina or Andrew; it wasn't even the worst in Maine history (that would be the '47 wildfires). But it was a calamity most Mainers had never experienced. Roads became impassable with sparking powerlines and iced branches. Trees crashed through rooftops.
But something else also happened. Mainers rose to the occasion. They began looking in on their neighbors and helping out at shelters. Heroic linemen worked days straight to restore order to our surprisingly fragile civilization. If you were anywhere throughout the northeast U.S. or Canada that winter, you probably have similar recollections. It was, in my lifetime, perhaps the truest manifestation of an American civic purpose that has not been seen much since the Second World War. (One of the tragedies of September 11 was that, in its immediate aftermath, the purposelessness of the attack left so many eager to respond but unsure of how to do so. Our better angels were rendered impotent by an elusive evil.) The Ice Storm re-taught Mainers lessons in community that we modern Americans too easily forget.
That is why it's worth remembering ten years later - as a reminder of what it means to be a good neighbor. There's an old Yankee saying about how you can't do anything about the weather. But we can do things for each other.
- By: Paul Doiron